Press Release

Emergency Legal Petition Filed with USDA to End Cruel Farm ‘Depopulation’ Methods

Ventilation shutdown and water-based foam methods used to kill animal populations during the pandemic are among the cruelest ways to kill farmed animals

Contact: media@aldf.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today a coalition, led by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, filed an emergency petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to prevent COVID-19 relief funds, resources, and any other forms of support from facilitating or compensating for the costs of ventilation shutdown or water-based foam “depopulation” — the mass killing of animals on factory farms — and to withhold COVID-19 relief funds, resources, and any other forms of support from integrators, processors, and meatpackers that order or permit ventilation shutdown or water-based foam depopulation.

Ventilation shutdown is executed by shutting off all fans and closing vents to create an airtight environment while animals suffocate and are baked alive in rising temperatures over multiple hours. In some circumstances, steam is also pumped into the barns to speed the process. Water-based foam depopulation, typically used to kill birds, is executed by filling a barn with shaving cream consistency foam to cover the animals, resulting in suffocation over an estimated 15-minute period.

COVID-19 has sickened thousands of slaughterhouse workers across the country, which has forced many slaughterhouses to shut down for periods of time and slow their processing rates, resulting in a backup of millions of animals on factory farms. This backlog leads to the mass killing of animals because, in an effort to maximize profits, the industry’s business model leaves no room to accommodate delays in the supply chain. This “just-in-time” model means new herds and flocks are scheduled to arrive at farms just in time to replace those who have reached slaughter weight and are being trucked to one of very few slaughterhouses.

“Some of the cruelest depopulation methods, like using ventilation shutdown — which was recently revealed by a worker to have occurred at Iowa Select Farms — can leave animals suffering for many hours before they suffocate or are cooked alive,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “We’re taking this initial action urging the USDA to prevent these extreme measures.”

The petition also requests that the USDA create affirmative and enforceable standards for depopulation and for the agency to establish an online database of animal agriculture industry recipients of COVID-19 relief.

Depopulation as a result of COVID-19 is likely to continue. Slaughterhouses are backed up for months, and current corporate and government policies — which force workers to stand close together on slaughter lines while also speeding up those lines — make it more likely that the virus will continue to rage in these facilities, causing more temporary closures, supply-chain disruptions, and gruesome depopulations, all culminating in the animal agriculture industry turning to the USDA for monetary relief for a problem of its own making.

To address this untenable situation, the coalition — which is made up of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Equality, Animal Outlook, Animal Place, Association of Irritated Residents, Center for Biological Diversity, Compassion in World Farming, Farm Forward, Farm Sanctuary, Mercy for Animals, PETA, The Humane League, Woodstock Sanctuary, and World Animal Protection — is proposing a solution that incentivizes responsible, forward-thinking policies to avoid some of the cruelest outcomes for animals.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund continues to seek whistleblowers who can report safety issues, animal cruelty, or other concerns anonymously through an online tip portal —ReportAnimalAg.com. The mass killing of animals and other side effects of animal agriculture’s fragile supply chain can strain the mental health of workers tasked with carrying out such cruelty.

A copy of the petition is available upon request.

Report Animal Agriculture

Report animal abuse, worker safety concerns, depopulation, or illegal disposal confidentially.